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Your Favorite Writers’ Favorite Books


One of the most common questions asked of writers is “what is your favorite book?” Sometimes this is because we’re just trying to get a good book recommendation for our own shelves, but more often than not this is our not-so-subtle way of trying to figure out where their stories and ideas come from—do Stephen King’s stories stem from a childhood fascination with horror that’s continued into adulthood, or did J. K. Rowling read Dickens’ bildungsromans? What books writers like can say a lot about them, and not always just about why they write about what they write about, but they also allow us a little peak behind the writer mask and give us insight into who they are as human beings.

This is at least partly why J. Peder Zane went out and interviewed 125 different writers about what their top ten books of all time were, and then published his findings in his 2007 book, The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books.  Featured writers include Michael Chabon, Stephen King, Annie Proulx, and Jonathan Franzen among others, and the book also contains a series of Top Ten Lists put together from the writers’ picks, such as “The Top Ten Mysteries” and “The Top Ten Books of All Time.”

125 writers wasn’t enough, however, and after the book was published Zane started a website stemming from those interviews, The Top Ten, where he continues to collect various writers’ lists of favorite books. Well over 100 writers’ lists are archived on the site as well as other features like a ranked book list, a collection of the all-time top ten lists, and reader lists submitted by fans.

Be sure to check out the site on your own here, but in the interim here are some of my personal favorite authors’ lists.


Sherman Alexie (“Reservation Blues”)

  1. Invisible Man~Ralph Ellison 
  2. Howl~Allen Ginsberg
  3. The Poems of Emily Dickinson
  4. The Things They Carried~Tim O’Brien
  5. Don Quixote~Miguel de Cervantes
  6. Ceremony~Leslie Marmon Silko
  7. She Had Some Horses~Joy Harjo
  8. The Branch Will Not Break~James Wright
  9. The Grapes of Wrath~John Steinbeck
  10. Beloved~Toni Morrison



T. C. Boyle (“Drop City”)

  1. Love Medicine~Louise Erdrich
  2. The Remains of the Day~Kazuo Ishiguro
  3. Fiskador~Denis Johnson
  4. The Messiah of Stockholm~Cynthia Ozick
  5. Lucy~Jamaica Kincaid
  6. White Noise~Don DeLillo
  7. Chronicle of a Death Foretold~Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  8. Ficciones~Jorge Luis Borges
  9. V.~Thomas Pynchon
  10. The Stories of John Cheever


Ulf Andersen Portraits - Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon (“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”)

  1. Labyrinths~Jorge Luis Borges
  2. Pale Fire~Vladimir Nabokov
  3. Scaramouche~Rafael Sabatini
  4. Moby-Dick~Herman Melville
  5. Pride and Prejudice~Jane Austen
  6. Tales of Mystery and Imagination~Edgar Allen Poe
  7. In Search of Lost Time~Marcel Proust
  8. Paradise Lost~John Milton
  9. Love in the Time of Cholera~Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  10. The Long Goodbye~Raymond Chandler



Michael Cunningham (“The Hours”)

  1. King Lear~William Shakespeare
  2. Madame Bovary~Gustave Flaubert
  3. Leaves of Grass~Walt Whitman
  4. To the Lighthouse~Virginia Woolf
  5. The Great Gatsby~F. Scott Fitzgerald 
  6. Lolita~Vladimir Nabokov
  7. Dubliners~James Joyce
  8. As I Lay Dying~William Faulkner
  9. The Turn of the Screw~Henry James
  10. The Stories of Flannery O’Connor



Breat Easton Ellis (“American Psycho”)

  1. Sentimental Education: The Story of a Young Man~Gustave Flaubert
  2. Anna Karenina~Leo Tolstoy
  3. Middlemarch~George Eliot
  4. Lolita~Vladimir Nabokov
  5. The Great Gatsby~F. Scott Fitzgerald
  6. Madame Bovary~Gustave Flaubert
  7. Ulysses~James Joyce
  8. Rabbit Angstrom—Rabbit Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit is Rich; Rabbit at Rest~John Updike
  9. Vanity Fair~William Makepeace Thackery
  10. Moby-Dick~Herman Melville


Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan (“A Visit from the Goon Squad”)

  1. The Golden Notebook~Doris Lessing
  2. The Transit of Venus~Shirley Hazzard
  3. The House of Mirth~Edith Wharton
  4. Good Morning, Midnight~Jean Rhys
  5. Middlemarch~George Eliot
  6. Invisible Man~Ralph Ellison
  7. Tristram Shandy~Laurence Stern
  8. Underworld~Don DeLillo
  9. Germinal~Emile Zola 
  10. Don Juan~Lord Byron



Jonathan Franzen (“The Corrections”)

  1. The Brothers Karamazov~Fyodor Dostoevsky 
  2. War and Peace~Leo Tolstoy
  3. The Trial~Franz Kafka
  4. In Search of Lost Time~Marcel Proust
  5. The Great Gatsby~F. Scott Fitzgerald 
  6. Absalom, Absalom!~William Faulkner
  7. The Charterhouse of Parma~Stendhal
  8. Lolita~Vladimir Nabokov
  9. The Man Who Loved Children~Christina Stead
  10. Independent People~Halldor Laxness



Mary Gaitskill (“Bad Behavior”)

  1. Ulysses~James Joyce
  2. Lolita~Vladimir Nabokov
  3. Pale Fire~Vladimir Nabokov
  4. Bleak House~Charles Dickens
  5. Madame Bovary~Gustave Flaubert
  6. To the Lighthouse~Virginia Woolf
  7. Gusev~Anton Chekhov
  8. Peter Pan~J. M. Barrie
  9. Dead Souls~Nikolai Gogol
  10. The Hunchback of Notre Dame~Victor Hugo


Stephen King 126

Stephen King (“The Stand”)

  1. The Golden Argosy~Van H. Cartmell & Charles Grayson
  2. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn~Mark Twain
  3. The Satanic Verses~Salman Rushdie
  4. McTeague~Frank Norris
  5. Lord of the Flies~William Golding
  6. Bleak House~Charles Dickens
  7. 1984~George Orwell
  8. The Raj Quartet~Paul Scott
  9. Light in August~William Faulkner
  10. Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West~Cormac McCarthy



Jonathan Lethem (“Motherless Brooklyn”)

  1. Great Expectations~Charles Dickens
  2. The Trial~Franz Kafka
  3. The Man Who Loved Children~Christina Stead
  4. The Red and the Black~Stendhal
  5. A Dance to the Music of Time~Anthony Powell
  6. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland~Lewis Carroll
  7. The Black Prince~Iris Murdoch
  8. New Grub Street~George Gissing
  9. Tristram Shandy~Laurence Sterne
  10. Crime and Punishment~Fyodor Dostoevsky



David Mitchell (“Cloud Atlas”)

  1. The Duel~Anton Chekhov
  2. 1984~George Orwell
  3. Heart of Darkness~Joseph Conrad
  4. Sense and Sensibility~Jane Austen
  5. The Master and Margarita~Mikhail Bulgakov
  6. As I Lay Dying~William Faulkner
  7. Tom Jones~Henry Fielding
  8. Labyrinths~Jorge Luis Borges
  9. W, or The Memory of Childhood~Georges Perec
  10. The Makioka Sisters~Junichiro Tanizaki
  11. (Extra, because no one should be limited to just 10!) Lolly Willowes~Sylvia Townsend Warner


Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates (“them.”)

  1. Crime and Punishment~Fyodor Dostoevsky
  2. Ulysses~James Joyce
  3. The Sound and the Fury~William Faulkner
  4. The Poems of Emily Dickinson
  5. The Stories of Franz Kafka
  6. The Red and the Black~Stendhal
  7. The Rainbow~D. H. Lawrence
  8. Women in Love~D. H. Lawrence
  9. Moby-Dick~Herman Melville
  10. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn~Mark Twain


from BBS upload

Annie Proulx (“The Shipping News”)

  1. The Odyssey~Homer
  2. Wheat that Springeth Green~J. F. Powers
  3. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer~Mark Twain
  4. Ship of Fools~Katherine Anne Porter
  5. The Master and Margarita~Mikhail Bulgakov
  6. King Lear~William Shakespeare
  7. The Stories of William Trevor
  8. The Black Book~Orhan Pamuk
  9. The haiku of Matsuo Basho



David Foster Wallace (“Infinite Jest”)

  1. The Screwtape Letters~C. S. Lewis
  2. The Stand~Stephen King
  3. Red Dragon~Thomas Harris
  4. The Thin Red Line~James Jones
  5. Fear of Flying~Erica Jong
  6. The Silence of the Lambs~Thomas Harris
  7. Stranger in a Strange Land~Robert A. Heinlein
  8. Fuzz~Ed McBain
  9. Alligator~Shelley Katz
  10. The Sum of All Fears~Tom Clancy



Tom Wolfe (“The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”)

  1. L’Assommoir (The Dram Shop) and Nana~Emile Zola (tied for first)
  2. Cousin Bette~Honore de Balzac
  3. Bel-Ami~Guy de Maupassant
  4. Anna Karenina~Leo Tolstoy
  5. The Grapes of Wrath~John Steinbeck
  6. Appointment in Samarra and Butterfield 8~John O’Hara
  7. Sister Carrie~Theodore Dreiser
  8. The Studs Lonigan Trilogy~James T. Farrell 
  9. Our Town~Thornton Wilder
  10. Vile Bodies~Evelyn Waugh



Meg Wolitzer (“The Interestings”)

  1. The Great Gatsby~F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. To the Lighthouse~Virginia Woolf
  3. A Passage to India~E. M. Forster
  4. Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge~Evan S. Connell
  5. Dubliners~James Joyce
  6. Madame Bovary~Gustave Flaubert
  7. War and Peace~Leo Tolstoy
  8. Hard Times~Charles Dickens
  9. Goodbye, Columbus~Philip Roth
  10. My Antonia~Willa Cather

One thought on “Your Favorite Writers’ Favorite Books

  1. Pingback: Book Riot’s “Zero to Well Read in 100 Books” List | The Bewildered 20-Something Writer

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